If McCreary Countians plant milkweed, the monarch butterflies will come
It has been said if it weren’t for change, we would have no butterflies. Progressing through life, the monarch changes from an egg to a caterpillar to a cocoon before finally emerging with beautiful orange, white, and black markings to be what some consider one of the world’s most beautiful butterflies. Migrating from Mexico to southern Canada each spring and back to Mexico in the fall, the monarch depends upon the presence of milkweed along the spring migration route in order to have a suitable place to lay eggs and provide food for the larvae. Since the larvae must eat milkweed, monarchs will only lay eggs on the leaves of milkweed plants. It’s really quite simple. Without milkweed, the monarch butterfly cannot survive.
Unfortunately for the monarch, milkweed is rapidly disappearing. According to monarchwatch.org, repeated mowing and the use of herbicides along roadsides have drastically decreased the amount of milkweed. Additionally, modern farming practices are detrimental to milkweed, in part, due to the increased use of GMO crops which can withstand the use of the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup). Because GMO crops can withstand the use of glyphosate, farmers increasingly use the glyphosate instead of tilling to control weeds.
While milkweed can withstand tilling, it cannot tolerate the continual use of glyphosate. Making matters worse, fast paced urban development has also taken a toll on milkweed, with the U.S. destroying habitats for monarchs and other types of wildlife at a rate of 6,000 acres per day.
The reduction of milkweed has led to a rapid decline in the number of migrating monarchs. The decline in butterflies set off an alarm in 2014 when the number of monarchs hibernating in Mexico bottomed out to the lowest level ever, leading scientists and conservationists to make a desperate appeal to the White House to take measures to save the monarch.
McCreary Countians, by creating monarch habitats, can easily become part of the solution to the downward spiral of the monarch butterfly and its migration pattern, while at the same time, making McCreary County a more beautiful and inviting place to live and visit. It is as simple as starting Monarch Waystations (gardens or habitats) at homes, schools, businesses, parks, and along roadsides and undeveloped land.
To create certifiable Monarch Waystations, the following guidelines must be met or exceeded. For waystations to be their most effective, they should be at least 100 square feet (although they can be smaller.) The total footage may be split into several areas. Butterflies and butterfly plants need sun, and waystations should receive sun for at least six hours per day.
• Butterfly plants should be planted close together but not crowded.
• Ideally, gardeners should plant at least ten milkweed plants of two or more species however more than ten plants of one milkweed species will suffice.
• Common milkweed and orange butterfly weed (a type of milkweed) do well in McCreary County. Waystations also need nectar plants for the butterflies to feed on during the breeding season and fall migration. Waystations need at least four annual, biennial, (e.g. zinnias, Sweet Williams, French marigolds, cosmos, blanket flowers, etc.) or perennial (e.g. bee balms, black-eyed Susans, hollyhocks, New England asters, purple coneflowers, etc.) plants to provide nectar. Purple butterfly bush should be avoided as it is an exotic, invasive plant that will spread and crowd out native plants.
When purchasing milkweed, gardeners should always buy milkweed that is native to this area (not tropical) and that has not been treated with herbicides or pesticides.
The Monarch Watch group will certify gardens that meet certain criteria and will list them worldwide online in the Monarch Waystation Registry.
A certificate with the gardener’s name and unique Monarch Waystation ID number is awarded to owners of certified waystations.
Why Should We Be Part of the Solution?
Along with other types of butterflies, moths, and bees, monarch butterflies are important pollinators. If for no other reason than pollination, monarchs and their migration pattern need to be protected. However, as is the case with any dwindling species, a reduction in the numbers of monarch butterflies is an important indicator and warning sign that something is amiss in our environment. By working to restore necessary habitats throughout the migration routes of monarch butterflies, we are ultimately improving our own environment and preventing future environmental problems for ourselves and other species.
Aside from environmental issues, the planting of Monarch Waystations throughout McCreary County can beautify and distinguish our county as a butterfly haven.
For more information regarding monarch butterflies and certifiable monarch waystations, visit monarchwatch.org
Schools and non-profit organizations can apply for a free flat or 32 milkweed plugs and directions on creating a monarch butterfly habitat. For more information visit: http://monarchwatch.org/bring-back-the-monarchs/milkweed/free-milkweeds/.